November 22, 2016

John F. Kennedy and Radio Free Europe

On November 8, 1960, Senator John F. Kennedy was elected as the 35th President of the United States. He officially took office on January 20, 1961. The Democratic party had replaced the Eisenhower Republicans in the White House. 

Cord Meyer, the CIA's liaison officer with RFE then, has written in his memoirs (Facing Reality) that because of alleged improprieties on the part of RFE in the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. "When President Kennedy took office in Washington, I found that some of his key advisors were initially hostile to the radios for this reason."

A letter under President Kennedy's name was sent to W. B. Murphy, Chairman of the Board, Radio Free Europe Fund, on January 31, 1961, possibly to assuage any fears about the negative effect of a Democratic administration on Radio Free Europe. The letter read, in part:

For many years I have been convinced that Radio Free Europe is a most valuable undertaking and that it is important that the American people should contribute to its financial support.

The very fact that so many people here in the United States have been willing to give voluntarily to support RFE is proof to those on the other side of the Iron Curtain that they have not been forgotten and that they have here a reservoir of good will and of deep concern for their plight.

I congratulate you and your associates on the devotion and energy that you are private citizens have given to this endeavor and wish you success in your current fund-raising effort.

On March 1, 1961, President Kennedy sent an invitation to the National Chairman of the Radio Free Europe Fund that read:

I hope that you will be able to join me on Monday, March 6th at 2:45 in my White House office to discuss the future activities and funding of Radio Free Europe. I consider Radio Free Europe a vital link in our efforts to maintain effective communication with the satellite peoples and for out world policy. I hope very much that it will be possible for you to attend

Here is a photograph of prominent businessmen and members of the Radio Free Europe Fund, who attended the luncheon.

President Kennedy opened his press conference on March 8, 1961, with a prepared statement about Radio Free Europe

First, I want to say a word on behalf of Radio Free Europe, which is now making its annual appeal for support from all of our citizens. For more than ten years this enterprise has been reaching out to people in Europe, Eastern Europe, with truth and  devotion to liberty as its message. While this radio is at work, with listeners numbering in the millions, the competition of ideas in these countries is kept alive. 

The individual Americans, by giving to Radio Free Europe, may be sure that they are bringing a beacon of light into countries to which millions of us are tied by kinship, and whose hope for freedom all of us must share. This is a peaceful concern but a firm one. Radio Free Europe needs and deserves our generous help.

Berlin Mayor Willy Brandt visited the White House on March 13, 1961, and presented President Kennedy with a silver model of the Freedom Bell, with the inscription: "The President of the United States of America John Fitzgerald Kennedy as a sign of cordial ties March 1961 Willy Brandt Ruling Burgermeister from Berlin."

On February 7, 1962, from 12:00 to 12;17 pm, President Kennedy met with another group of combined business leaders, RFE president John Richardson, Jr. and Leslie Shoup, president of the Radio Free Europe Fund, to "discuss activities of Radio Free Europe."

Kennedy continued the tradition of lunches for top contributors to the Radio Free Europe Fund, when on October 25, 1963, he hosted a luncheon for his top administration officials, business leaders, and the Radio Free Europe and Radio Free Europe Fund leadership.

The photograph above, courtesy of RFE/RL. is that of then President-elect Kennedy sending Christmas wishes to Eastern Europe via RFE in December 1960.

November 09, 2016

The Saltshaker Caper: Operation Puppet -- 1959 Poison Plot against Radio Free Europe: Real or Successful CIA Double Agent Operation?

On November 18, 1975, Josef Frolik, a seventeen-year veteran of the Czechoslovak Intelligence Service (StB) who had defected to the West, testified before a U.S. Senate Subcommittee. In page after page of remarkable testimony, Frolik presented detailed information about the inner most workings of intelligence services, not only that of Czechoslovakia but also of the KGB and other Warsaw Pact services. He gave true names and code names of agents and StB officers. 

For example, he said that Major Jaroslav Nemec, a Czechoslovak intelligence officer, code name NEKOLA, listed officially as the Czechoslovak Vice-consul in Salzburg, had planned a mass poisoning of RFE employees by substituting atropine in the cafeteria's saltshakers in November 1959. The operation was given the code name PANENKA (puppet).

Chairman Senator Thurmond asked Frolik, "What is the significance of the atropine?

Frolik answered, "It can create hallucinations and in large quantities death of people." He added that “Nemec had an agent in Radio Free Europe, who, as it turned out, also was an agent of the CIA ... the double agent gave the plan to the CIA, and therefore it did not happen.”

One of the so-called double agents of the CIA at RFE was code-name "Jachym,” who started working for the Czechoslovak Intelligence Service in 1953. He was sent to West Germany through a "faked escape" across the border the next year. The faked escape was meant to establish his bona fides within the Czech émigré community and then lead to a permanent job with RFE. He had been trained in radio codes, secret writing and other tradecraft. He had at least 59 meetings with the StB in Austria, Holland, Switzerland, and Germany. "Jachym's" intelligence tasks in Germany were: the Czech emigration. American Military Intelligence, and Radio Free Europe.
In the early 1990s, when he was confronted by RFE with spying allegations, "Jachym" for the first time admitted he had lied to RFE on his employment application: he did not escape to the Germany but StB sent him on an espionage assignment at RFE. He acknowledged being part of the 1959 StB plot to put atropine in the RFE cafeteria saltshakers, but he said he was under control of the CIA in Munich from the beginning. 

Unbeknownst to “Jachym” the StB also had involved two other agents code named “Alex” and “Kytka”, both of whom were actually double agents of the CIA. Under CIA control, “Jachym” gave StB officer Nemec one saltshaker that he had purchased at a local department store. It had to be a little different from one normally found in the cafeteria, i.e., for easier identification, if atropine were in it. "Jachym" did not actually place a saltshaker in the cafeteria, but one or two other RFE employees ("Alex" or "Kytka") possibly did so--he saw one of them pocket two saltshakers and reported it to the CIA in Munich.

Taking no chances, on November 21, 1959, Radio Free Europe management closed the cafeteria without an explanation to the staff and to the Works Council (Labor), which had co-determination rights regarding the opening and closing of the cafeteria. The Works Council sued in Munich’ Labor Court to reopen the canteen. RFE’s European Director Erik Hazelhoff had to appear in court but could not give the reasons for the cafeteria’s closure on “security grounds.” RFE's cafeteria was reopened on December 17, 1959.

Radio Free Europe was now in a serious quandary as the covert RFE-CIA connection could not be admitted publicly. Also, a total of five Bavarian government agencies and the U.S. Army Southern Command told the press that they had not heard of the matter, before the court hearing.

Archibald S. Alexander, president of RFE's parent organization the Free Europe Committee, submitted a long report to the Board of Directors in December 1959, in which he wrote,

It was agreed between the Executive Committee and me that the matter should be handled in Munich by having Erik Hazelhoff, the European Director, go to the German authorities. It was understood at the time and still appears to be the case that the plot had been discovered when Jaroslav Nemec had sought to induce at least one employee to insert the substance, which he provided, into the salt shakers It turned out that the employee was and had for some time been working for the U.S. Army intelligence.

It is unfortunate that some of the news versions of this event may have cast doubt in the minds of readers or listeners as to whether there really had been this serious attempt upon the lives or health of RFE employees by Communist agents. There could have been some doubt as to whether the whole thing was not an attempted propaganda stunt by RFE.

An abridged copy of the report was sent to Free Europe Committee members, with information copies to Regional Directors of the Crusade for Freedom.

Although the Army Southern Command had at first publicly denied knowledge of the plot, on December 18, 1959, Headquarters U.S. Army Europe, in Heidelberg, Germany, issued a press statement that continued to distort the truth:

During its normal security operations in Germany, Army counter-intelligence agents discovered a plot to poison workers at RFE in Munich and passed this information immediately to RFE as a matter of urgent concern. The German Ministry of Justice was also informed by the U.S. Army.

The Army counter-intelligence investigation shows that Jaroslav Nemec. a vice consul at the Czech Consulate in Salzburg. Austria on November 16 gave a communist agent salt shakers containing atropine for placement in the RFE cafeteria in Munich.

The agent was told that the shakers contained a 'mild laxative.’ Clinical analysis, however, proved that they contained atropine in sufficient quantities to cause serious illness the degree of which would depend upon the age and physical condition of the individual and the amount of 'salt' consumed.

The New York Times published a special report on December 17, 1969in which the journalist wrote, “The amount of poison in each salt shaker was said to be 2.36 per cent by weight of the contents. Atropine is a white crystalline alkaloid indistinguishable from salt. (Medical sources in New York doubted the amount cited was enough to kill, but said it probably could cause serious illness.)" 

The United States government directly, or indirectly, contacted the Austrian government, and Major Nemec was declared persona non grata. The Austrian government issued an arrest warrant for Major Jaroslav Nemec. The Chief of the Czech intelligence station in Vienna, General Bohumile Molnar drove to Salzburg to warn Nemec of the arrest warrant. When Molnar finally found Nemec drunk in a ski resort town in the Austrian Alps, he put him into the trunk of a car and secretly drove him across the Austrian border to Czechoslovakia.
Time magazine ran a story in its December 28, 1959 issued entitled “In the Salt”, which in part read: “To counter skepticism, the U.S. State Department stepped in to confirm "a nefarious plot," and U.S. Army Headquarters in Heidelberg reported that its counter-intelligence agents had discovered the guilty Communist, one Jaroslav Nemec, who works in the Czechoslovak consulate at Salzburg, Austria”.

The story also was covered in newspapers in the United States. For example, the press agency UPI distributed an article entitled "Red Diplomat Named As Radio Poison Plotter" and quoted from the U.S. Army reports.

Former CIA officer Ted Shackley has written in his book Spymaster: My Life in the CIA:

It was May 1959, and the Czech intelligence service, popularly referred to in the media as the StB, was doing its best to penetrate and neutralize Radio Free Europe (RFE). Having just become head of the Czech unit, I therefore encouraged the officers working on Czech operations in Munich to dangle one or more RFE employees in areas where StB agents were known to be lurking in the hope that they would take the bait and recruit one of our offerings. 

One of RFE's Czech staffers was selected as the dangle. We briefed him to be outspoken in his dissatisfaction with his working conditions and in his desire to return home at some point in the future. Then, we sent him on holiday to Salzburg, Austria, a city within easy range of RFE's Munich headquarters and one of the StB's happy hunting grounds. He had not been there long when, in one of the Weinschenken, he met a congenial soul who in time introduced him to a new circle of drinking buddies, one of whom turned out to be Jaroslav Nemec, an StB officer stationed in Salzburg under diplomatic cover. Nemec offered our man a chance to earn his passage home. Our man agreed with a show of reluctance, and we had our double agent. 

At one of his Salzburg meetings with our double agent, Nemec gave him a saltshaker that the agent had previously taken from the RFE cafeteria at Nemec's request. Nemec told the agent to take the saltshaker back into the RFE cafeteria. When the agent showed his CIA case officer the shaker, it had a white substance in it that looked like salt. We had the substance analyzed and were told it was atropine. A derivative of belladonna, atropine has legitimate medical uses. Ophthalmologists use it to dilate the pupil of the eye, but when taken internally in a large dose, it is a poison. In the concentration in which the Czechs had prepared it, it was not a deadly poison, only a strong laxative, but it was certainly enough to make people sick.

Jaroslov Bittman,another Czechoslovak intelligence officer who defected and wrote many books and articles afterwards, claims in his book The Deception Game: Czechoslovak Intelligence in Soviet Political Warfare that the salt-shaker affair was, 

  • A kind of scatological “practical joke” designed “mainly to amuse themselves,” 
  • Create an atmosphere of fear among RFE employees. (pp. 11-12)  
Was there was a real attempt to poison RFE's staff, or a provocation on part of the StB to intimidate them? Was this a successful CIA double-agent operation against the StB, or a successful CIA campaign against the StB involving Josef Frolik, the U.S. Senate, CIA, RFE, and U.S. Army? The record is not clear to this day; probably the truth is a combination of all the possibilities one can imagine in Munich’s Wilderness of Mirrors.

November 07, 2016

November 1952, President Elect Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson “United in the Cause of Freedom” in Support of Radio Free Europe

On November 4, 1952, Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected the 42nd President of the United States. While on a post-victory two-week vacation in Augusta, Georgia, he recorded a message in behalf of the opening of the third Crusade for Freedom campaign in support of Radio Free Europe that was broadcast in a 15-minute program on November 11, 1952, by the four major radio networks: CBS, ABC, NBC and MBS (Mutual Broadcast System).  The goal of the Crusade for Freedom fundraising drive was $4 million.

Eisenhower’s opponent was Democrat Governor Adlai E. Stevenson of Illinois, who recorded his remarks about Radio Free Europe and the Crusade for Freedom at this home in Springfield, Illinois. 

The next day, their messages were quoted in newspapers throughout the United States. Crusade chairman Henry Ford II was the moderator of the radio broadcast and began, in part, with these words: “The words you are about to hear cannot be muffled or distorted or hidden away by the Communist suppressors of truth. Radio Free Europe and Radio Free Asia will carry the story and no force can stop it.”

Eisenhower continued his Cold-War rhetoric of 1950 in his radio address, when he said that the purpose of Radio Free Europe’s broadcast “was actively to oppose communism—to fight the big lie with the big truth.” He added, 

Millions of people have listened to an infinite number of Communist lies designed to make them hate us. At the same time, their children have been told it is their duty spy on their parents… [T|he Communists have isolated their people to keep them from ever hearing the truth—to create a vacuum in their minds which will absorb lies because there is nothing else for them to seize on.

In today’s world, freedom cannot live in any nation, no matter how powerful, unless it is preserved also in other significant parts of the globe.  The big enemy of freedom everywhere is the big lie. People believe lies only when they have no opportunity to hear the truth.

The only way to frustrate this evil manipulation of human minds and emotions is to supply the truth, which gives the oppressed people a measuring stick to lay against each lie that is told to them.

People believe lies only when they have no opportunity to hear the truth.  The Crusade for Freedom, through Radio Free Europe, is supplying the truth. Men and women who might otherwise have succumbed to the philosophy that it is good to be slaves still keep alive the sparks of freedom in their hearts. 

The frenzied counterattacks on both sides of the world prove that these two radio networks are hurting the Reds and giving comfort and encouragement to the oppressed people.

Stevenson pointed to the Crusade for Freedom as a “vital activator of American’s will to be free. In part, he said:

The programs have a spontaneity and freshness, which no official information agency can have. Freedom speaks most clearly between man and man, when its voice is neither muffled nor amplified by government intervention nor other official trappings.

There are mounting indications of the effectiveness of free radio broadcasts…One of the best tests is the shrill violence of the attacks upon them by Radio Moscow betraying the deep concern of the Communist rulers about these efforts.

Freedom is shielded by other things than steel and gunpowder. Vigilance in freedom’s defense is served by other than military means. The survival of freedom is best assured by the will to be free.

It is the work of the crusade tend the flame of the will to be free, to feed and fan it wherever possible, to keep it flickering in places where if may be burning low. The success of the crusade will mean firm friends and allies in places of critical need behind the enemy’s walls – walls erected to keep out the truth.

Henry Ford commented on Eisenhower and Stevenson’s speeches: “The joint statement of the two political rivals showed this nation is strongly united in the cause of freedom.” 

The 1952 photograph of Eisenhower was taken by the photographer Fabian Bachrach (1917-2010)

October 25, 2016

All Radio Free Europe Hungarian Broadcasts from October 22 to November 12, 1956 Now Online

All  RFE Hungarian broadcasts from October 22  to November 12, 1956, are now available online, thanks to the dedicated efforts of the Oral History Department of the Hungarian Szechenyi National Library,  in cooperation with the Hoover Institution Library and Archives  and RFE/RL.  They are available here:  

This is a beta version of the new web site; comments are welcome and should be addressed to Bea Lillin at NSL  (  The web site carries both  audio recordings  and transcriptions of the  RFE Hungarian broadcasts, along with other audio-visual material on the Hungarian Revolution.    

The RFE audio files were retrieved from low-quality, slow speed transmitter “log” recordings – the so-called “Koblenz” files.  The provenance and retrieval of these unique recordings is described in  and  in an appendix to the book by Dr. A. Ross Johnson:  Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty; the CIA Years and Beyond, “Appendix, A Note on the History of the 1956 RFE Hungarian Broadcast Archives,” pp. 129-130.  They are the authentic record of all RFE Hungarian broadcasts during the Hungarian Revolution. 

September 26, 2016

Golfing for Radio Free Europe in the Cold War: Arnold Palmer - Jack Nicklaus Exhibition Match 1966

Professional Gold legend Arnold Palmer (1929-2016) died September 25, 2016, at age 87

Palmer, Nicklaus 1966
What is not generally known is that just over 50 years ago (September 8, 1966), he and Jack Nicklaus (another Golf legend) played an exhibition round of golf at the Wilmington Country Club (WCC) South Course in Wilmington, Delaware, on behalf of Radio Free Europe (RFE). The exhibition had been arranged by the Delaware Committee of the Radio Free Europe Fund (RFEF) as part of its fund-raising drive in 1966. 

Before the match, there was a $100-a-plate luncheon for 100 persons. At 1:30 PM, Palmer and Niklaus gave a 30-minute golf "clinic" to the assembled guests. Reportedly, 1,500 spectators purchased a ticket for $10 to watch the match.

The match began and 2 PM on the WCC South Course, with Palmer teamed with Delaware State Amateur Champion Roy Marquette. Jack Nicklaus was team up with another famed amateur golfer William (Bill) Hyndman III, from Philadelphia, who had participated in 15 National Amateur Golf Championships. Nicklaus shot a course-tying record of 69; Palmer shot 71; Marquette shot 73; and Hyndman shot 75. The Morning News newspaper edition of September 9, 1966, carried a photo in the "sports" section that showed the 1,500 spectators crowding around the first green. 

After the match, C. Rodney Smith, Vice-President of Free Europe, Inc., wrote a thank-you letter to the Delaware Committee Co-Chairmen, in which he said, “

The turnout for both the lunch and the golf exhibition and the newspaper and radio coverage were all amazingly good. It was a good illustration of how effective an imaginative idea can be when so well executed.

The wider knowledge about Radio Free Europe, as well as the financial support, generated by the lunch and exhibition with their attendant publicity is very valuable to us. The interest in RFE and East Europe displayed by the newsmen was impressive….It was a genuine pleasure to meet both of you and your distinguished guests, and to get to see Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus in action. Their pre-match demonstration shots as well as their play on the course were something to watch. Those two have personalities to match their professional golfing abilities.

Smith at Left
RFEF Committee Co-chairman Thomas B. Evans, in a letter to C. Rodney Smith, wrote, “Your presence added a great deal to the occasion and the members of the press and radio were particularly impressed with what you had to say. Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer both said it was as an enjoyable an exhibition as they had ever played in.”

The exhibition match raised $8,200 to help support Radio Free Europe. The 1965 Delaware fund raising campaign resulted in $3,500 in private contributions for RFE. Coincidentally, Nicklaus and Palmer each received $3,500 for their participation in the match. 

For more information about the life of Arnold Palmer, visit

Photo of C. Rodney Smith courtesy of Hoover Institution, Radio Free Europe Collection, Stanford University

Photo of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, after winning a team event in 1966 in West Palm Beach, Fla. Toby Massey/Associated Press

September 13, 2016

Nobel Prize Winner for Literature John Steinbeck and Radio Free Europe

The September 2016 National Steinbeck Center newsletter contains a short article about famed writer John Steinbeck and Radio Free Europe.

Below we will look at literary giant John Ernst Steinbeck (1902 - 1968), who won both the Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize for his works, and his relationship to Radio Free Europe. In July 1954, John Steinbeck visited Radio Free Europe. Steinbeck had received a request from RFE in June to visit the radio station. He and his wife then visited Munich for a week, during which time Steinbeck read this stirring, personal letter to RFE's listeners:

To my friends,

There was a time when I could visit you and you were free to visit me. My books were in your stores and you were free to write to me on any subject. Now your borders are closed with barbed wire and guarded by armed men and fierce dogs, not to keep me out but to keep you in. And now your minds are also imprisoned. You are told that I am a bad writer but you are not permitted to judge for yourselves. You are told we are bad people but you are forbidden to see and to compare. You are treated like untrustworthy animals, subjected to conditioning as cold and ruthless as though you were rats in a laboratory. You cannot travel, you cannot read freely and you cannot work at the profession of your choice. Your writers are the conditioned servants of a regime. All of this is designed to destroy your ability to think.

I beg you to keep alive the integrity of the individual in his ability to judge and compare and create. May your writers write secretly and hold their writing for the time when this grey anesthetic has passed as pass it must. The free world outside your prison still lives. You will join it again and it will welcome you. Everything around you is cynically designed to destroy you as individuals. You must remember and teach your children that they are precious, not as dull cogs in the wheel of party existence, but as units complete and shining in themselves.

Steinbeck had hoped to read his message on the air to RFE’s listeners in their own languages. He diligently practiced from phonetically written texts of his message and tapes prepared for him by RFE's broadcasters. Steinbeck eventually gave up on Hungarian, Romanian, and Polish, and decided to concentrate on Czech. According to former RFE political analyst Patrick Moore, "He was particularly concerned that the communist authorities in Czechoslovakia prevented his friends there from receiving the books that he had sent them." His wife Elaine finally convinced him to read his statement in English, telling him "Your English is so beautiful."  
Newspapers in the USA covered his visit to RFE. The Pittsburgh Press article published on September 4, 1954, began with: “Novelist Predicts Collapse of Soviet: Radio Free Europe airs Steinbeck.” He was quoted as saying; "The Soviet Union is the most reactionary country in the world. Hindering creative work, the Soviet will eventually destroy their own system…By destroying criticism the Communists have made any culture impossible.”

In November 1958, John Steinbeck send a letter concerning the Nobel Prize award to Boris Pasternak to Radio Free Europe in which he wrote:

The Award of the Nobel Prize to Paskernak and the Soviet outcry against it makes me sad but not for Pasternak. He has fulfilled his obligation as a writer, has seen his world, described and made his comment…[M]y sadness is for the poor official writers sitting in judgment on a book on a book they are not allowed to read. They are the ground vultures of art who having helped to clip their own wings are righteously outraged at Flight and contemptuous of Eagles.

In 1979, the U.S. Postal Service began a Literary Art series of stamps with the commemorative John Steinbeck stamp shown above.

For more information about the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California, visit 

The National Steinbeck Center newsletter with the article about Patrick Moore and Radio Free Europe can be viewed at